It’s been three days since her arrival, and already it seems strange that Astrid was ever missing from our family. That she was inside me, just three days ago, her little foot often jabbing me and poking out of the side of my bump.
I knew on Friday evening that something was about to happen. I just felt different. No signs of labour or that familiar period like pain. I just knew it was imminent. I didn’t say a word, not wanting to make Trevor excited or anxious too early. I had a feeling it’d take a while.
By the early hours of Saturday, that throb was there. That dull ache in the back and thighs that began my labour with Iris too. The exact same feeling. I went back to sleep for a while, and was woken with a contraction at 3am. I checked the time. The next one came 10 minutes later. They were mild. Not painful. I went back to sleep.
By 6am I was downstairs in the bath. The contractions still 10 minutes apart but slightly more intense. Still not painful. I text my mum, knowing that she had a night shift on Saturday night and might need to arrange cover for it. I thought I had better warn her, put her on standby. Trevor and Iris were peacefully snoring upstairs and there seemed no point in waking them.
Eventually I woke Trevor by texting him. He came down to check on me and Iris soon woke up too. As the morning went on the contractions got closer together and further apart. Getting us excited then disappointing us, over and over. I still strongly felt that this was it. That this wasn’t another false start. However slowly it was going, it was the real thing.
By mid morning my mum had arranged cover for her shift and driven over the bridge to be ready to look after Iris. She entertained her while Trev looked after me. We called the birth centre to make sure there were staff. It isn’t always staffed as there isn’t always somebody labouring there. Luckily a midwife was there, which put my mind at ease.
To pass the time and hopefully get things going, we went for a walk. Seb had a game of fetch and mum pushed Iris on the swings. The walking got the contractions really going and there was barely any gap between them. We returned home, excited.
At home they virtually stopped. Again.
I was frustrated by this point, and got a bit cross. I decided to go and wash my hair in the shower. Of course the shower was relaxing, and bought the contractions on again. One on top of the other. No gap in between. I stayed in there a while, letting the warm water soothe the pain as well as my frustration.
I got out. Put my tens machine on. Took it off again. Got in the bath. Got back out. Bounced on the ball. They kept coming, slowing down, coming back again. I realised they died down when I was around Iris. Perhaps I felt concerned at how she saw me? I went upstairs. I came down and got back in the bath.
Eventually the contractions stayed close together for long enough for us to believe that they were here to stay. It was evening. We headed to the birth centre.
I’d forgotten about the real hell that is having contractions in a moving car.
We arrived at 7:30pm, with me terrified that an examination would show that things had barely even started. I was right. I was disheartened. We went into a room with comfy chairs and a tv playing a shark documentary. I got a bit upset, then I laughed. We talked about us, our family, Iris. It was just me and Trevor. The contractions almost became too much and I cried. The midwife took that as a sign to run the water in the birthing pool, and I got in.
It felt good. I felt like I was in there for hours, but in reality I can’t have been. I felt like I needed to push, but the midwife said the baby’s position was making me feel like that. It wasn’t time.
I started to feel very tired. I got upset again, and having a natural birth suddenly didn’t seem so important. I wanted pain relief. Gas and air was provided and it helped, but not enough. I started to talk about giving up and Trev talked me into having a rest before giving in. I got out of the pool for an examination. I hadn’t progressed much so I asked for pethidine. It took a while but it took effect well enough for me to rest. Sleep even. Me and Trevor, snuggled up together on a tiny single bed. I don’t know how long we snoozed. I was woken by a contraction, a big one. I was told I couldn’t have any more pethidine for a while and I cried. I sucked up most of a can of gas and air while kneeling on the floor, squeezing Trevor and crying through each contraction. At some point I panicked that the cats hadn’t been fed and he laughed at me.
More pethidine. More talk of giving up, more encouragement from Trevor. He said if I didn’t feel this birth, if I didn’t do it how I wanted to do it I would regret it forever. I told him he was wrong but he was right. I withdrew into myself and bit down hard on the gas and air mouthpiece. I was going to do this. Suddenly I was determined.
The midwife didn’t bother us much through the whole night. I was never really sure when she was in the room and when she wasn’t. I think there was a long period, maybe hours, when I didn’t talk and nobody spoke to me. I just stayed inside my mind and pushed through. Not really there. Not really me. Somebody suggested I kneel on the bed instead of the floor. Trevor? The midwife? I have no idea.
Soon after getting up onto the bed (well it felt soon, I can’t be sure) my waters broke. I was shocked at how much of it there was and sure I heard it pouring on to the floor. I was vaguely aware of Trev calling the midwife in. I think they changed the sheets behind me. I was later told by Trevor that this happened just after 5am. I felt the urge to push and I pushed, with every contraction. I felt the burning sensation of her crowning and I got scared. I could feel tearing. It was burning. I held back. I wasn’t trying to hold back but I did. My body wouldn’t let me. I pushed even when I didn’t really want to. I pushed and felt her whole body flop out of me in what felt like one go. I heard Trevor gasp and coo, I heard the baby cry.
Then they put her in front of me. She looked exactly like Iris but with dark hair. Dark hair? It confused me. Why did she have dark hair? I turned around and saw the placenta delivered. Trevor had cut the cord after a delay. I held my baby. She was born at 5:50am.
She was perfect.
I wanted immediate skin to skin so handed her back to remove my top, and I was glad I did. The gas and air had dried me up so I’d drank gallons of water all through the night but hadn’t been for a pee. I threw it all up. I filled cardboard bowl after cardboard bowl, and soaked myself and the bed. It just kept coming.
When I stopped they changed the bed yet again, and I held our daughter again. I held her against my skin and she rooted. She had a feed. She knew exactly what to do.
I needed stitches so Trevor held her again. I insisted he needed skin to skin and made him strip off! I’m not sure he felt as sure about this as I did. The stitches were horrible. The sharp needles and scratchy feeling were awful and I had yet more gas and air. They weighed Astrid and did some observations, a full hour after she was born. 7lb 9 and a half ounces of perfect baby. She was so tiny, but heavier than Iris had been.
Then we were alone. The three of us. We called mum, Iris was asleep but fine. She hadn’t got upset at all and they’d had a lot of fun and she’d gone to bed happily. My biggest worry turned out to be for nothing. Iris had spent her first night without me and it hadn’t seemed to affect her at all. I felt so relieved! Trev text some people, I fed Astrid again. We had some tea and toast. Everything felt so good. I’d done it. I’d had a normal birth. I’d felt my baby enter the world, a feeling I missed out on with Iris and resented ever since. I was well. She was really well. We had to have observations for a few hours because of a small amount of meconium, but then we could go home. No overnight stays!
Trevor dashed off and picked up his biggest girls, as they had school on Monday and wouldn’t meet their new sister until Friday otherwise. I cuddled Astrid and snoozed a little. I did that first terrifying trip for a wee and it was ok. Then they moved us to another room so somebody else could use the pool. A little private room in the birth centre where I was the only patient. It felt like a different world to the noisy ward full of new mothers and crying babies where I spent more than 48 stressful sleepless hours after giving birth to Iris. I even read a book for a while. Somebody bought me dinner but I fell asleep and it went cold.
The girls and Trevor turned up but the paediatric doctor didn’t. The girls held Astrid and fell in love. They all went to the canteen for lunch. I snoozed some more. My phone died and I was gutted I couldn’t take more pictures of my tiny snoozing daughter. Trevor took the girls back, and still no doctor arrived. They kept telling us updated times that he would see us, but each time he was too busy. I tried not to get upset, as a busy doctor means somebody is ill, but I desperately wanted to see Iris. A midwife said if he didn’t come I’d have to stay overnight and I cried. I was missing Iris terribly. At 7:30pm, 24 hours after we arrived, a doctor finally glanced over Astrid and discharged us. By 8:30 we were back at home. Mum held Astrid while we fussed over our big girl, and the sisters met for the first time. Iris was instantly smitten, and has barely left Astrid alone. She’s been showered with gentle toddler kisses almost constantly since.
The whole experience has been incredible. So healing. I’m finally over the trauma that was Iris’s birth. We’re so happy. I feel so complete.